Aspects of Distillation” is a series the iStill Blog hosts. It aims to cover as many aspects as possible. Aspects of – you guessed it! – the distillation process. Think alcohol formation, flavors, mashing, distillery design … and more. In fact, if you have a suggestion, please email us the aspect you want us to dive into. Via Odin@iStillmail.com. Today’s topic answers a question Daniel Binkowski asked: "Can you give guidelines on how to design a distillery ...
This is a very, very wide topic. So many things influence what the best lay-out actually will be. Experience, your location, the size of the hall you rent or own, the products you want to bring to the market, if a bar or tasting room is allowed, or if your distillery comes with a full swing restaurant and/or brewery attached.
In short, the comprehensive blog post on how to set-up your distillery ... well, that's not what this post will be about. The maximum we can do here is give you some general assumptions and considerations. For the distillery, not the bar or restaurant or tasting room.
Having explained the limits to this post, there are a few things I want you to consider, when planning the lay-out of your distillery:
- Points of entry and exit;
- Zoning and Safety;
Create a flow. From left to right or the other way around. Start with a masher on the left, then put the fermenters to the right of that masher, and the still to the right of the fermenters. Collection and aging vessels could be positioned to the right of the still. Bottling and labelling stations would - again - be to the right side of these spirits collection and aging vessels. Packaging and dispatching to the right of the bottling and labelling machines. If you organize your workflow from left to right, or the other way around, you create oversight and prevent lots of additional handling, moving, pumping, tubing, and piping.
Even if you "just" use one iStill for mashing, fermenting, and distilling, the "go-with-the-flow"-approach is still important. Maybe put the iStill to the left, and the collection and aging vessels to the right of the still/distillery, and the bottling and labelling stations to the right of that, etc. It still makes sense to choose to work in a certain direction.
This flow doesn't have to be a straight line. It can be U-shaped, with the units and work stations situated against the walls of your distilling hall.
If there is one thing you'll learn from setting up a distillery, it is that whatever you plan out ahead, and whatever makes perfect sense now, reality will catch up with you. So make sure to plan for flexibility. Understand that what seems logical now, will, over time, change.
If you understand and accept the above, here's our advise: go for a soft set-up instead of a hard wired one. Put your label-machine on a movable table. Connect your iStill and pumps with temporary tubing, so that you can easily and quickly adapt your lay-out according to new insights. New insights that can only come with the actual experience of operating your distillery for some time.
Points of entry and exit
Some goods enter your distillery in bulk. Think grain, molasses, bottles. Other goods leave your distillery in bulk. Think spent grain and cases of the spirits you produced. As a general rule of thumb, we advise to carefully consider those points of entry and exit, as they need bigger doors, easy access, and maybe a ramp.
Please consider if your goal is to optimize production or to make your distillery part of the customer experience. If the first one is the case, then the considerations elaborated on above stand firm. But that changes if you want to use your distillery for tours or as a showpiece that can be seen from your bar or tasting room.
If you have a bar or tasting room, you might want to put the iStill center stage, so that all who visit can admire it. This might compromise the perfect lay-out for production, but if it helps create more sales, maybe that's worth it? the question-mark is there because it is a question you - not us - need to answer.
Tours complicate matters even more, since you now need to create a clear and safe path for your visitors to follow. For sure, that path will intervene with what otherwise would have been the perfect set-up for production. Again, there is no best choice or one solution that fits all. It is a trade-off and only time and experience can tell what's the best solution for you, catering to your public, in your area.
Zoning and Safety
Zoning and safety regulations are different per country, state, or even city. Maybe down to the level of the inspector you have to deal with.
Always make sure you incorporate zoning and safety criteria into your distillery set-up. Reach out to the inspecting bodies and make sure they sign-off on your plans. Invest in standard operating protocols, in alcohol and CO2 detection equipment, in safety protocol training for your staff, maybe even in sprinklers, and fire-proof doors, and the correct electrical coding.
Designing a distillery without taking compliancy into account is futile. Inspectors will only allow you to open your distillery if they find you have ticked all the boxes zoning and safety-wise.
Whatever you plan, however you plan, plan for growth! "I should have opted for that bigger building" is the most common feedback we get. It's right up there with "I should have bought the bigger iStill".
Starting a distillery is just that: the starting point. Running a distillery is what it's all about. It is where you actually start to make money. You don't want to go through all of the planning phases again, if you grow. Instead, prepare for growth.
Factor in that you might need a bigger iStill or fermenters or mashers of maybe even a bottling-line. That way your growth - from a production stand-point - will be more or less organic instead of another abyss to overcome.
Bonus: add more drains!
Simple yet essential. Add more drains! Discharging, spilling, and cleaning are all side-effects of any distilling operation. Since they don't make you money, make sure you can handle them as efficiently as possible. Adding more drains is the answer to many of the questions that are easiest to forget about.
Features & Benefits
All iStills can mash, ferment, and distill. That makes floor-planning a hole lot easier. All iStills, from the i500 upwards, now come with central distillery management included. This makes adding fermenters and/or mashers, at a later stage, very easy. All iStills are easy to assemble and move around. They can be hooked up with a simple garden hose and electrical wire, so that you can change your distillery design without any hassle.
Distillery lay-out at Long Branch Distillery, New Jersey ...